Respect in Teaching

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Expect Diversity: Prologue and Epilogue

Expect Diversity in Teaching:

A Collection of Personal Stories and Reflections from Teaching that Mirror Multicultural Research

Know THYSELF, stories and reflections found here.

Know THY STUDENTS, stories and reflections found here.

Know THY SUBJECT, stories and reflections found here.

PROLOGUE

The parent of a former student of mine told me the following story. This story has had me thinking about my bias, as both a teacher and as a parent, for the past decade.

I think about this story often. How would I have reacted to the same situation? I want to raise my children without racial bias. I want to teach my children that the world is filled with good people that have a multitude of identities. I want my children to know that it is the diversity in the world that makes our world great. But, I understand that my bias (both inherited and developed) can come out in the most unexpected moments.

EPILOGUE

Returning to the story about the dinner guest, Ernie, I should tell the rest of the story because I wonder how I would have reacted. What if I was that father, standing there with my daughter? What if my friend ended the conversation there, turned and walked away in disgust? I would have ran after him and not been there for the rest of the story.

This former student of mine expected diversity. She expected Ernie to be orange. It was the bias of her father – and my bias hearing the story for the first time – that anticipated a social problem because of Ernie’s racial identity. I should expect diversity in my classroom too.

Know THYSELF, stories and reflections found here.

Know THY STUDENTS, stories and reflections found here.

Know THY SUBJECT, stories and reflections found here.

References:

Banks, C.A.M. (1996). Intellectual Leadership and the Influence of Early African American Scholars on Multicultural Education. In J.A. Banks (Ed.), Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge and Action (pp. 46-63). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Hillis, M. R. (1996). Allison Davis and the Study of Race, Social Class, and Schooling. In J.A. Banks (Ed.), Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge and Action (pp. 115 – 128). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Howard, G. (1996) Whites in Mulitcultural Education: Rethinking Our Role. In J.A. Banks (Ed.), Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge and Action (pp. 323 – 334). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

McIntosh, P. (2008) White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. In A.V. Kesselman, L. D. McNair, and N. Schniedewind (Ed.), Women; Images and Realities: A Multicultural Anthology (pp 388 – 392). New York: McGraw-Hill Companies.

Mvududu, N. (Director) (2015, May 1). Class Lectures. Diversity in America, Spring Quarter. Lecture conducted from Seattle Pacific University, Seattle.

Know Thy Subject: Expect Diversity

There is great controversy in the world of theatre when it comes to casting. Analogous to this is the classroom task of putting on a play. The philosophical question is the same. Does the actor need to match the part? In other words, do you need an actor that is black to play Martin Luther King Jr.; do you need an actor that is Italian to play Romeo; are there times when you must pay attention to the diversity that the actor brings to the part and other times that it does not and should not matter? At least in the professional theatre there is a larger pool of actors, however, the pool of actors, like the classroom, is limited to the people that show up.

With children, it is even more of a challenge. Nearly every part in mainstream plays are not for children. Many parts that they are asked to play are adults. There are not many plays written for kids; the plays that are written for kids are often lacking in content with a simplified script. The content that I want to teach, and the content that my students are ready for, does not exist in a simplified script that is written for kids.

I have developed several instructional strategies to manage this problem. I let students shape their own narrative by literally writing the script that they want to work on. This eliminates any issues of adapting outside content to my students. I encourage them to work with the stories that they know based on their own personal experience. By doing this, I get a wide range of stories. From these stories, I select an evening of varied performances. One of my favorite plays ever written by one of my students was half in English and half in Spanish. Few of my students speak Spanish. However, the play was excellent and deserved to be produced. The entire class had to learn, memorize, and personalize the text written in Spanish. When students asked the inevitable question of, “Why do we have to do this?” I responded, “because it teaches you about the world around you; this came from your colleague and from your community; not everything needs to be easy and comfortable for you.” I can have this response because I know that every student, regardless of their comfort level with the material, will still be treated with respect; also, I had my eyes opened because of a play that I had to work on with a context that was not comfortable for me.

When it comes to casting, I generally practice what is known as color-blind-casting.[1] Rarely do I have a play presented that mandates an actor with a particular trait. I always have actors that are between the ages of 10 and 14; I do not always have characters in my plays with the same age rage. Further it would be educationally irresponsible of me to cast a student, based on skills and abilities in a part that they were not ready to play or achieve in the context of the project. I have seen far too many productions that featured an actor, with an obvious diverse trait, that was not able to perform in that part.

One prominent example of this was several years ago. I was invited to watch a production of Grease. As it happens, this was for a summer camp and most of the people that had signed up for the camp were girls. The director cast one of the few boys in the production as Danny, the male lead and romantic attraction for Sandy. The girl that was cast was about 14 years old; the boy was about 8. There was agony for the entire play. Much of the plot revolves around the relationship between these two characters. The director was unwilling to reimagine the casting and make Danny female or cast a female actor in a male part. The show was a tragedy and there were plenty of female actors that could have performed in the part of Danny excellently.

Casting should be based on ability and in an educational setting that can get tricky because of our diverse society and the history that we all carry with us. However, there are plays that mandate an actor with a particular trait that cannot be faked. If I had a play that was specifically about black character, I would have to cast a black actor. Without this I would be risking community outrage or worse yet my decision would go unnoticed and another minority person would be overlooked because the homogenized white culture had absorbed them.

Lacking that black actor, I would not be able to perform the script; or, I could discuss the script with my students and identify the challenge and create dialogue about the production. But, that is about as far as it could go. Even though there are many movies where ethnicities are faked and an ethnically ambiguous actor plays a range of characters from different cultures, I do not think that I should participate in the problem. I have learned that when it comes to casting (and to teaching for that matter), I must be flexible and adapt to both the script and the classroom pool of actors that I have.

When it comes to student assessment, I can adapt to each student in the classroom. I use a rubric that is based on skills rather than student interpretation.[2] This allows the personalization of a text to come to the performance. The powerful thing about theatre is that it can, and should, change with each performance and each performer.[3] One interpretation should be different from the next.

Lastly, so that all students have a sense of belonging, I have only three rules for my content area. Respect yourself; respect others; respect the space around you. I ask students on the first day of class what these things mean. I ask them to give examples of respect. This is one value that is universal. However, the way respect is shown changes from one year to the next. Students must participate in the shaping of the classroom culture. Doing this sets the tone for everything else; teaching is a partnership between the students and the teacher, it cannot be done in a homogenous melting pot. Rather, the partnership is formed anew with each new class in a new and beautiful way.

Know THY STUDENTS, linked here.

Know THYSELF, linked here.

Back to Prologue and Epilogue, here.

[1] Color-blind-casting is term that started with the idea that any actor of any skin color should be allowed to play any part. However, the term now applies to other identifiers such as, gender, physical ability, and age.

[2] Interpretation is one of the largest areas of bias an artist can have. As one who identifies as an artist, I recognize this and allow my students to express themselves through their bias and not my own.

[3] It is interesting to note though, this idea that performances change by the day is held primarily in Western Culture. In Kabuki, a Japanese form of theater the performance is passed on exactly from one master to one apprentice. This has preserved the art form for the past 400 years so that a performance today is nearly the same as it was when the art form first started.

Know Thy Students: Expect Diversity

“Our understanding of a group remains incomplete when the perspective of either the insider or the outsider is overlooked (Banks, C.A.M., 1996, p 52).” Knowing the group is essential for anyone in teaching because teaching is a two-way relationship. Students must understand their teacher and the teacher must teach to the student understanding. How does one get to know their students? Multicultural education requires a dynamic curriculum that is derived from the interests of the teacher and the interests of their students (Mvududu, 2015). It is true that teachers must continually adapt and change their instruction. Early in my teaching career I had a challenging experience.

I was hired as an after school tutor. Previously, I had worked for a very middle-class and white population of middle and elementary school aged students in a one-on-one environment. Now, I was hired to work in a low-income and racially diverse school. I was to implement after school programming such as yard games and arts activities in addition to homework help. On paper, I was a great fit. In reality, I was not ready to do the work to form a relationship with students that saw this after school program as a holding tank that they had to stay at because their parents could not pick them up. One student in particular expressed this opinion nearly every day. Both a Pacific Islander and a musician, he loved to play a ukulele. I would frequently stop him from playing. I would tell him to put the ukulele away so that he could participate in my activities. “You can’t keep me here,” he would say as he stormed off and ran down the hall away from the gym, where he was supposed to stay. Because it was an after school program and because the school was already understaffed, I could not leave the gym. I had to call for support when this happened. The student was frequently angry. While I tried to treat the student with respect, it became difficult for me to do when he attacked my own identity. “You’re not like me, you wouldn’t understand.” I wanted to understand. But, the barrier that was between us was too difficult to overcome. I gave up and left the position as soon as a replacement could be hired.

Both of us, the student and myself, constructed a meta-narrative about each other. We both had an alien voice for each other. We both made assumptions about whom the other of us was. If we could have challenged our instinctual notions and in turn challenged the metanarrative, just as early African American Scholars did with the story of the Westward Movement (Banks, C.A.M., 1996, p 52), there could have been change; we could have told the whole story, or at least have gotten closer to a full picture of each other. But, the damage of our mutually exclusive meta-narrative was done. We needed our stories to be unpacked. I wanted to help and he wanted to be heard. Sometimes we a set back because of the metanarrative that is given to us; this is the same story that we take as the truth about the world. We must question the metanarrative and ask to hear the voices that are put down just as the voices of the Native Americans were put down and adjusted in the footnotes of history. We, teachers, cannot sideline a student because we do not understand them. This of course crosses racial lines and includes any diversity that a student may bring to the classroom. We cannot make assumptions about the metanarrative they bring to the classroom. We must work to unpack and uncover the multiple narratives that talks about both the minority and majority experience of the student.

I understand from that experience that the job of a teacher is far more than instruction and organizing activities. The job of a teacher is to connect with their students. If I could do it again, I would. I would make more of an attempt to get to know this troubled student. I would ask him open-ended questions. I would share about my own ideas and try to find points of common connection. I would have let him play his ukulele and even lead the group in song. It would have been completely appropriate for the after school program. I bet he would have changed his mind about me. I bet I would have changed my mind about him.

If a teacher constructs a meta-narrative about a student they can become pinned down to that narrative. For me, that student will always be a troubled student that I was unable to reach. If I had implemented a dynamic curriculum that was responsive to the needs and identity of my students, I would have made a positive impact. “Multicultural education, as we’ve seen, supports just that dynamic, curriculum rising in part from the interests and backgrounds of diverse kids (Mvududu, 2015).” We must teach the students that show up in our class and use their cultural assets and interests to instruct them in the content.

Discussing my successes with culturally responsive teaching would be easy. I have now developed a program in my drama classes that demands that students talk about what they know and love. By making my curriculum implicitly responsive to the student interests (by having them create the content) I am forced into a culturally responsive stance. However, I must continually improve. Another recent challenge for me rests in a student that left the school before the year was completed. This student felt alienated; I can only assume the reasons. He is Middle Eastern with a very dark complexion. He looked black to many students and was often confused for African American. He is Muslim; this is a fact I did not learn until after his departure. He was incredibly short and believed that the NBA had a spot waiting for him. He was the last of seven children. Many teachers, including myself, believed that his parents had given up on him. We would have benefited from these wise words, “all families, no matter what their income, race, education, language, or culture, want their children to do well in school – and can make an important contribution to their children’s learning (Mvududu, 2015).” We tried to work with the family; but our work was far too late in the game. I tried, for about a year, to connect with this struggling student. He declined, often, to share details about his life

We cannot reach every student. As teachers, it is impossible to know every student as well as we should. It is an unfortunate numbers game. But, I still put the blame on my plate. I could have spent more time getting to know him and less time “supporting his academics.” I saw him as a struggling student and he stayed a struggling student.

Know THYSELF, linked here.

Know THY SUBJECT, linked here.

Back to Prologue and Epilogue, here.

References:

Banks, C.A.M. (1996). Intellectual Leadership and the Influence of Early African American Scholars on Multicultural Education. In J.A. Banks (Ed.), Multicultural Education: Transformative Knowledge and Action (pp. 46-63). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Mvududu, N. (Director) (2015, May 1). Class Lectures. Diversity in America, Spring Quarter. Lecture conducted from Seattle Pacific University, Seattle.

Family Engagement Plan

Teaching is not simply a one-on-one relationship. A teacher works with the student that is influenced and informed by the families they live with, the community they work with, and the neighborhood they are active with; A teacher should involve, inform, and collaborate with the families and neighborhoods that the students live in. This involvement should inform the educational process, include student cultural identity, and be linked to student achievement and performance.

As a part of my coursework and professional development in teaching I have created a Family Engagement Plan that includes an integration of family stories and community life so that I can know my students and their families better.

Being a community-based teacher is a philosophy and a continual practice that embraced the entire student and their major influences. By following this praxis, teachers can form productive and positive relationships that validate the life of the student both outside and inside the classroom.

To develop my competency and understanding of my student community I met with the Head of School. In doing so, I learned that the majority of students (90%) live in the West Seattle neighborhood, west of Delridge. By interviewing students and the Head of School, I found that the most popular places for students to visit were: Husky Deli, Full Tilt Ice Cream, West Seattle Farmer’s Market, and the Admiral Theatre; other popular locations for students to visit included waterfront parks such as Lincoln Park and Alki Beach.

I took notes of my conversations and consolidated them into part one of my Family Engagement Plan.

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I realized and learned that I did not have a strong understanding of the student’s cultural and family identities. For part two of my plan I wanted to create a component that would embrace and include this missing aspect from my understanding. My plan, starting this summer as a part of summer camp, is to pilot a family and community story project that would have student’s bring family and community stories to the stage and integrate them into a performance that would be performed in the community. It would be my hope that the organizations that students identified with would be integrated in one aspect or another of the performance.

I presented my family engagement plan to the Head of School for a pilot program this summer. I have been approved for this work.

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It is my hope that future versions of my family engagement plan will be a part of my established curriculum. By implementing a family and community story project early in the year with sixth grade students I will be able to understand the prior history of students along with their present learning environment that they interrelate with outside of school. One last implication of this project would be my ability to integrate meaningful content, that would relate to student culture and family identity, into the remainder of the year’s academic plan.

Parent and Teacher Conferences for Effective Education

Teachers must utilize effective relationships with parents to maintain effective educational practices with each student. Effective Teacher-Parent Relationships are characterized by:

  • A partnership based model.
  • Shared values and goals, with the parent and the teacher agreeing on the desired outcomes of the education along with the academic path that will be most effective.
  • Mutual respect for time and expertise. Communication between teachers and parents is most effective when both people have an equal voice in the shared goals for the student along with an appreciation for the amount of time that either can attribute to the academic or social progress of the student.
  • Mutual accommodations to compensate for deficiencies on either side of the relationship. For example, a teacher may benefit from providing a translator to the parent of an English Language Learner (ELL) student and a parent may benefit from providing relevant developmental information and history about the student that the teacher would not otherwise know.
  • Regular communication from both the teacher and the parent so that the partnership can be ongoing rather than exclusive to a crisis or intervention.

Conferences with parents are an essential tool for effective communication between parents and teachers. These conferences happen in a variety of formats and are essential to developing positive relationships that are focused on the academic and social growth of the student in question. Conferences may or may not include the student. However, it is a best practice to bring the element of student voice to the conference, regardless of the student being in attendance. The two most common formats of a conference are casual and formal.

Casual Conferences occur spontaneously. Characterized by informal meetings, these conferences may occur at school, on the phone, or even in the broader community setting (Jordan, Reyes-Blanes, et. al. 1998). Research shows that frequent, early, and positive communication from teachers to parents is a consistently effective way to build productive partnerships between parents and teachers (Gregory and Ostrosky, 2013).

Formal Scheduled Conferences typically have an intended purpose. These purposes can include, but are not limited to, an academic check-in to evaluate student strengths and challenges, an academic intervention to address specific student challenges, and academic assessment of learning abilities to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP). All three types can occur commonly. Addressing general academic strengths and challenges is a good practice for every student. Interventions are more effective when both the parents and the teachers agree on the purpose, plan, and goals of the intervention; which is why a conference can be valuable. Also, developing an IEP must include input from the parent of the student so that, like an intervention, the purpose, plan, and goals of the IEP are clear and agreed upon (Jordan, Reyes-Blanes, et. al. 1998).

When preparing for a conference the teacher must allow for ample time for the conference to occur. At a minimum conferences last 30 minutes when everyone involved has time to participate in the discussion. However, the teacher must also respect time restraints so that the conference does not last too long and create a scheduling conflict for any of the participants.

Parents can feel uncomfortable and vulnerable around teachers and other education professionals due to their own experiences in education (Jordan, Reyes-Blanes, et. al. 1998). Teachers should be advised to create a family centered environment so that families are comfortable at the school (Gregory and Ostrosky, 2013).

Parents may have their own concerns about their relationships with a teacher, in addition to the experiences of their child (Jordan, Reyes-Blanes, et. al. 1998) and may have either a positive or negative impression of teachers because teachers can be seen as self-appointed “experts” (Gregory and Ostrosky, 2013); when this occurs communication becomes a teacher monologue, rather than a dialogue between teachers and parents (Guo, 2010). One way to avoid this is to approach the meeting from a team-building perspective.

In part because of this perceived monologue effect, teachers must be aware of their potential attitudes toward parents; this is especially important when the parent comes from a different demographic (cultural, economic, geographic, etc.) than the teacher (Jordan, Reyes-Blanes, et. al. 1998).

Some of the issues that teachers may encounter, when addressing demographic differences, are:

  • The concept of family and family roles.
  • Expectations for student behavior.
  • Expectations of teacher behavior.
  • Expectations of parent involvement.
  • Socio-economic resources, especially as they apply to schoolwork that occurs outside of the home.

Of particular note are parents that speak little or no English. One of the greatest under-represented cultural demographics in school communities is that of ELL parents (Guo, 2010). These parents need to have a translator present at the meetings; the school should provide a translator as a part of creating an accessible and fair education for every student. The translator can provide a comfortable and welcoming element to the meeting in addition to explaining school specific content that is culturally contained, such as what Social Studies or Science may courses include (Guo, 2010). Without a translator the teacher risks alienating the parent and consequently eliminating any potential supports that could occur outside of school.

In a formal conference setting, the teacher must also work to ensure the physical comfort of all participants. The physical arrangement of the conference can facilitate or inhibit the progress made in addition to the relationship between parent and teacher (Jordan, Reyes-Blanes, et. al. 1998). The area must be comfortable for adult sized bodies, maintain privacy and confidentiality, include a seating arrangement that is non-hierarchical, and a seating arrangement that is focused on eye contact without physical barriers between participants (Jordan, Reyes-Blanes, et. al. 1998). One common seating arrangement is with adult sized chairs placed in a circle.

Student Portfolios in Conferences are an excellent way to exhibit student work, academic progress, and engage student voice. By integrating a student portfolio into the conference the conversation can be targeted to a qualitative and quantitative discussion (Juniewicz, 2003). Avoiding the litany of summative assessment scores, a qualitative discussion can highlight student achievement and student weaknesses in a non-confrontational way. While it does require teachers to assist in the creation of the portfolios, it can be student-centered. If implemented early in the school year, students can be held accountable for maintaining a student portfolio that is kept in the classroom. The student should be instructed to include work that features their strengths, academic growth, and academic challenges. It should be noted that parent reactions to a portfolio-based conference will vary. Some parents will assert that the qualitative description from their child is extremely helpful for their understanding of their child’s academic abilities. Other parents will complain that the conference does not allow for private communication between teacher and parent (Juniewicz, 2003).

While teacher and parent schedules are busy, it is a best practice to utilize multiple conferences throughout the year, in both formal and informal formats. In doing so, the lines of communication will not be limited to a single meeting and the relative accumulation of data will give both teachers, parents, and students a valid and reliable interpretation of the student’s academic standing. Teachers should remember that parent communication is an essential part of effective education.

REFERENCES:

Gregory A. Cheatham & Michaelene M. Ostrosky (2013). Goal Setting During Early Childhood Parent-Teacher Conferences: A Comparison of Three Groups of Parents, Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 27:2, 166-189

Guo, Y. (2010). Meetings Without Dialogue: A Study of ESL Parent-Teacher Interactions at Secondary School Parents’ Nights. (Undetermined). School Community Journal, 20(1), 121 – 140.

Jordan, L., Reyes-Blanes, M. E. Peel, B. B., Peel, H. A., & Lane, H. B. (1998). Developing teacher-parent partnerships across cultures:.. Intervention in School & Clinic, 33(3), 141.

Juniewicz, K. (2003). Student Portfolios with a Purpose, Clearing House, 77(2), 73-77.